Top 5 disaster-relief apps from the Bluemixathon challenge

Meet the winning teams and their world-changing apps

Meet the winners of the Bluemixathon: Operation Rescue & Recovery challenge. Learn how the grand-prize winning team and the winners in each category used IBM Bluemix® services to build disaster-relief apps.

The apps are designed to help at least one of the following groups:

  • People who are immediately affected by a disaster
  • The families and friends of individuals affected by a disaster
  • First responders and support teams
  • Relief organizations and other groups dedicated to long-term rebuilding activities

I got to know these groups well when my town of Lyons, Colorado, was hit with devastating floods in September 2013. In the immediate aftermath, all water, electric, and sewer utilities were unusable. I remember our urgent need for information on road openings so we could drive out of town to stay with friends. I remember the countless posts on social media asking if people were okay, and the notes tacked on church bulletin boards reporting evacuees' whereabouts. I watched National Guard trucks carry disabled individuals through flooded streets.

Six weeks later, when I was able to return to my home, I volunteered at a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) center to assist neighbors who had questions about temporary rental assistance, rebuilding requirements, and flood insurance. More than two years later, recovery is still in process. Some people are waiting to close on federally funded buy-outs of homes damaged beyond repair, others are rebuilding to federal flood insurance standards, and local and state projects are restoring streams and improving bridges.

I expect that many of you can relate stories affecting your communities and loved ones, too — whether in Texas, Nepal, South Carolina, Colorado, India, New Jersey, the Gulf Coast, Mexico, Japan, Oklahoma, or anywhere else in the world affected by disaster. In addition to natural disasters, political crises and war also displace people.

What's compelling about a hackathon like the Bluemixathon Operation Rescue & Recovery is that all of us have the potential to be users. User experience is critical in software design, and creating a disaster-relief app gives you the opportunity to design it how you would like to use it. Many of the winners built their apps based on their own experiences.

In the developerWorks Bluemixathon Challenge Winners video at the top of the page, you meet winning teams and hear their stories. Out of hundreds who signed up for the challenge, 18 apps were submitted, and five winners were chosen. You can see all submitted apps on the Bluemixathon: Operation Rescue & Recovery Submissions page. Here's a brief summary of the grand-prize winner and the top apps in each category.

Grand prize winner: Help App for Disaster Relief

Gavy Aggarwal and Abirami Kurinchi-Vendhan, students at the California Institute of Technology, based their Help App for Disaster Relief on Abirami's experience in Hurricane Sandy, which hit the U.S. Atlantic Coast in 2012. Their app matches people who need help with people who have resources to help. Abirami said the app provides capabilities she wished she'd had when she tried to help others in the aftermath of that storm.

By using location-based services, the app frees users from having to describe where they are; rather, mobile device users communicate their location by pressing just two or three buttons. The app also uses Bluemix push notifications, which means that users who have resources are notified immediately. And hosting the app on Bluemix saves time, according to Gavy, because he needed to write code only for the data that he sends and receives, and the rest is taken care of. He used the Bluemix library that automatically communicates with the Bluemix server.

Individuals Impacted category winner: Future Without Borders

Akhil Nadendla, Jahan Cherian, Matthew Lin, and Arko Dewri, students at the University of California, Los Angeles, developed the Future Without Borders app to connect Syrian refugees with temporary hosts throughout Europe. Individuals available to host can sign up and are matched with families in need.

Arko appreciated how easy it is to move from one part of Bluemix to another. He also liked how he was able to incorporate other APIs easily.

Family and Friends category winner: No Internet, but find me!

Kazuhito Yokoi of Japan created the No Internet, but find me! app after she experienced the lack of mobile service following the 2011 tsunami and earthquake in Japan. Her relatives needed to know whether she was in a safe area. The existing process — city officials manually writing evacuees' names on a bulletin board — was an inefficient way to inform family and friends. Kazuhito's app can be used on a tablet or mobile phone to help family and friends find loved ones when typical communication methods are affected by disaster.

Her app searches for other devices in a safe area where people are evacuated to. The app searches the device ID of the tablet or phone Bluetooth and publishes the data with the GPS location to the database on Bluemix. Then, the web service on Bluemix makes the ID and location searchable by device IDs. Before disaster strikes, friends and family can exchange device information — and then after a disaster, they can share their locations through the app. Even when a mobile network is not available, if the device is in the safe area, it can connect to the Internet through a private network, and the app can share information.

First Responder category winner: Requirement Phone

Hagiwara Takayuki of Japan created the Requirement Phone app to help first responders. The app surveys and aggregates basic needs in a community affected by a disaster, so first responders can better plan their immediate recovery actions.

The app categorizes victims' needs in areas such as housing, food, and medical. It can also access personal data such as individuals' medical information that first responders often need.

Groups and Relief Organizations category winner: Mobilize

Andrew Van Tassel of Colorado created the Mobilize app as a notification system between evacuees and shelters, after he witnessed evacuation from flooding in Boulder County, Colorado. Andrew lives further east than my town, but heavy rains in September 2013 caused widespread flooding in 17 counties — nearly a 200-mile stretch of Colorado.

The Mobilize app is a communication app that provides a quick and efficient way through text messaging to identify who needs what and where. It alerts people in the field about specific needs of people who plan to evacuate to temporary shelters. Andrew used the AlchemyAPI, SendGrid, and Twilio services on Bluemix. He said that being able to deploy the app directly from the GitHub repository was both valuable and time-saving.

Inspired to write an app of your own?

The cloud services and runtime environments in Bluemix plus open source tools and APIs make it easy to create apps to help in disaster relief — or anything else you want to help people do. Are you inspired to create an app to solve problems in your community or beyond? A great place to start is with a developerWorks Premium membership. You get access to powerful tools that support your cloud projects, a trove of learning resources to help you build your skills, discounts to industry events where you can expand and enhance your network, free certification testing, and more.

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Zone=Cloud computing
ArticleTitle=Top 5 disaster-relief apps from the Bluemixathon challenge